Customer Service: What to Do When You Don’t Know

What to Do When You Dont Know

I was recently preparing for an overseas trip and needed information about international calling plans for my mobile phone. I asked my assistant to call my carrier and inquire about the best plan for my needs. Sounds simple, right? Just call and get the information then sign up for the best plan. But it wasn’t that easy.

Without going into all the details, my assistant called, but what she was told didn’t seem to make sense. She was told when my monthly bill renewed, my international plan would start over because the plan ended in the middle of my trip. Basically, for a week-long trip I would have to sign up for—and be charged for—two months of the international calling plan. I decided to have her call back for clarification. 

She called again and spoke to another representative who offered a completely different answer. It had to do with a pro-rated plan through the end of the first billing cycle. It made more sense but still didn’t seem quite right. 

So she called a third time and reached a knowledgeable customer service support person who was able to explain how to handle the situation in terms that made complete sense. 

My assistant asked, “So, who should we believe?” 

I said, “The person who gave us the best answer.” In other words, the one that we liked the most, regardless of it being right or wrong. 

Of course, there’s a problem with that. We don’t really know which information was correct. All of the customer service representatives offered an answer to the question, and each one seemed confident that they knew what they were talking about. But they can’t all be right. We won’t really know who was right until we receive a bill for the service. 

No one wants to show ignorance, so people will sometimes answer a question with what seems to be common sense. And by doing so, they may be giving the wrong answer. This is bad customer service. 

So how should a customer service rep handle the situation? It’s always best to be honest. No one will be offended if you say, “That’s a good question. I need to check with someone to make sure I give you the correct answer. Would you like to hold or can I call you back?” And then you do. 

And this does not just apply to those in the customer service department. When colleagues, customers, suppliers or anyone asks you a question, they will appreciate a correct answer—even if you have to seek out the information.

Bottom line, don’t make assumptions. If you don’t know the answer, don’t guess or reply with what seems right. You don’t know everything, and that’s OK! Just be honest, find the correct information and then get back to the person with the question. They will appreciate you for it.

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Shep Hyken

Shep Hyken

Shep Hyken is the Lecturer of Customer Experience for the Tarkenton Certificate in Entrepreneurship and the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. He is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and has been inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement in the speaking profession. Shep works with companies and organizations who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. For more articles on customer service and business go to